Whether it’s mining for diamond ores to fight zombies, skirting through town on a stolen vehicle with the feds on your back, embarking on a quest for rats tail to brew a witch potion, or playing a song on an ancient flute to advance to the next level… it’s easy to see how virtual realms can draw you in. At the core of most video games, there is a theme of exploration and escapism that opens a door to another world. But as of late, that door has been blasted wide open—the landscape of gaming is no longer bound to the online world, it has filtered through to the offline as one of the most profitable industries in the world and on track to becoming a 152 billion dollar market this year.
Gaming is the fastest-growing form of entertainment in the world. The annual revenue of esports currently overtakes those of major sports leagues NBA, NFA and MLB combined. Pro-gamers are regarded on the same level as professional athletes, generating a loyal audience who tune in to watch their live streams hosted on Twitch. Fans discuss their tactics and skills in a manner comparable to how one would applaud traditional athletes like LeBron James or Odell Beckham Jr. During quarantine, the NBA even dipped their toes into the esports sector, collaborating with 2K Games to host a virtual basketball tournament in support of coronavirus relief. Notable players in major leagues were amongst the players who participated. The collaboration is just another example of how gaming culture has intercepted the mainstream industry. Earlier this year, Travis Scott appeared in a digital, towering form in the global gaming phenomenon Fortnite, to perform a full-length concert, which was attended by 12.3 million players.
While in the past, there was an embedded stigma about gaming, where gamers are often pictured sitting in three-day-old pyjamas in their mum’s basement, it’s far from reality today. Gamers spend hours customizing their avatars, even spending money to purchase custom skins—so it only makes sense that their fantasy wardrobe translates into high-fashion luxury in the real world. FaZe Clan is an example of the resulting cross-pollination of esports and designer streetwear. Initially formed as a competitive gaming collective, their captivating performances catapulted their reach beyond the esports community, drawing the attention of some of the best entertainers and athletes in the industry. Some notable mentions include NBA player Ben Simmons and one-third of rap-trio Migos, Offset. A majority of FaZe Clan entertainers are often decked head to toe in designer logomania apparel—Off-White sweatshirts, Fendi tracksuit bottoms, Gucci slides—you name it. Members create content revolving around streetwear fashion and have accumulated a fanbase which is equally captivated in watching them strike down opponents in Fornite as watching a $20,000 Gucci store haul.
In turn, the increasing interest in gaming culture has equally informed the narratives of fashion, with many luxury brands looking to cash in where the money’s at. Monetary benefits aside, the collision of fashion and gaming was inevitable, both industries share a culture of creative expression and compelling storytelling, so their collaboration should come as no surprise. As of this year, a majority of big-name fashion houses have collaborated some way or another with the gaming community. Burberry introduced ‘B Bounce’, Gucci added Gucci Arcade to their app, Fendi launched a mini-game exclusively designed for WeChat and Louis Vuitton invited shoppers to play ‘Endless Runner’ on their website. The latter also partnered with Leagues of Legends in 2019, designing custom skins for two avatars, and in a full circle, created a real-world collection inspired by the same game.
Taking it one step further, popular video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons hosted a fashion show earlier this year, organised by photographer Kara Chung and stylist Marc Goehring of 032c. The event saw avatars dressed in pixel rendered recreations of trendy designer clothing hitting the runway, and even featured a curated soundtrack by DJ Michel Gaubert. Big names like Valentino, Anna Sui, and Sandy Liang also joined in on the fun, hosting events and creating custom garments for players. Earlier this year, the popular game sold 13.41 million copies in its first 6 weeks, making it the best-selling rendition of the series. A popular activity in the game is the ‘pro design tool’ which allows users to show off their creativity and customise their outfits, creating their dream outfits to their heart’s desire. Many are documented across various Instagram pages, @AnimalCrossingFashionArchive, @NookStreetMarket and @CrossingTheRunway which spotlight avatars that are better dressed than yourself—outfits featured include no shortage of designer pieces, be it a Stone Island bucket hat, JW Anderson wool coat, or even a beige two-piece vintage Chanel co-ord, previously worn by Kylie Jenner in the offline world.
The late 2000s are responsible for breaking stereotypes and rules. The wide acceptance of gaming shows a shift in mentality toward a more accepting view of eccentric, youth behaviour. Gaming, which was once viewed as an unproductive hobby has become one of the most lucrative industries today, stimulating creativity in sports, media, music and fashion to create exciting experiences that blur the online and offline worlds. There’s no denying that esports is currently a major part of global culture. Admittedly, for some of us, our knowledge of it only extends to the limits of our mobile phones, whether it was navigating a gobbling snake on the small screen of our first black and white Nokia brick phone, or catching Pokemons via iPhone camera. But the lesson learnt? Don’t be too quick to judge something…who knows where the next big thing is going to emerge from.